Battleship Bismarck
German Battleships WW2

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The Bismarck class battleships were a pair of battleships built by Germany around the onset of World War II. In terms of full-load displacement, the Bismarck-class ships were the third-largest battleships ever completed, behind the Japanese Yamato class and the American Iowa class.
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List of German Navy Ships WW2 Graf Zeppelin Battleships Tirpitz, Scharnhorst Admiral Graf Spee U-Boats Types 1, 2A, 2B, 2C, 2D Kriegsmarine Submarines Types U-Flak, 7A, 7B, 7C, 7C/41, 7C/42, 7D, 7F Kriegsmarine Submarines: U-Boats Type 9A, 9B, 9C, 9C/40, 9D, 14 Submarines: Type XXI , Type XXIII Grand Admiral Karl Donitz, Erich Raeder
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Bismarck Battleship - German Navy WW2

Battleship Bismarck
Battleship Bismarck
 
Bismarck Battleship
 
Bismarck
 
Bismarck
Mission Bismarck   Front View   Production   Side View

Battleship Bismarck, a 41,673-ton battleship, was built at Hamburg, Germany. First of a class of two heavy ships, with Tirpitz being the second, she was commissioned in August 1940 and spent the rest of that year running trials and continuing her outfitting. The first months of 1941 were largely devoted to training operations in the Baltic sea. Bismarck left the Baltic on 19 May 1941, en route to the Atlantic, accompanied by the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. On the morning of 24 May, while west of Iceland, the German vessels encountered the British battlecruiser Hood and battleship Prince of Wales. In the ensuing Battle of the Denmark Strait, Hood blew up and sank. The seriously damaged Prince of Wales was forced to break off contact. Bismarck also received shell hits that degraded her seakeeping and contaminated some of her fuel.

Later on 24 May, Prinz Eugen was detached, while Bismarck began a voyage toward France, where she could be repaired. She was intermittantly attacked by carrier planes and surface ships, ultimately sustaining a torpedo hit in the stern that rendered her unable to steer effectively. British battleships and heavy cruisers intercepted the crippled ship on the morning of 27 May. After less than two hours of battle, shells and torpedoes had reduced Bismarck to a wreck. She capsized and sank, with the loss of all but 110 of her crew of some 2300 men.

Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler's reaction to Bismarck's loss produced a very cautious approach to future German surface ship operations against Britain's vital Atlantic sea lanes. In June 1989, just over forty-eight years after she sank, the German battleship's battered hulk was located and photographed where she lies upright on a mountainside, nearly 16,000 feet below the ocean surface.

Bismarck (Battleship, 1940-1941) - Construction

Battleship Bismarck was Germany's first "real" post-World War I battleship, with guns and protection of similar scale to those of the best foreign combat ships. Built to a relatively conservative design, she featured a main battery of eight 38 centimeter (15-inch) guns in four twin turrets, two forward and two aft. Her secondary battery of twelve 15 cm (5.9-inch) guns, mounted six on each side in twin turrets, was optimized for use against enemy surface ships, especially destroyers. Her anti-aircraft battery, including sixteen 10.5 cm (4.1-inch) guns in eight twin mounts and several 37mm and 20mm machine guns, reflected the prevailing pre-World War II underestimation of the threat from the air, a failing common to all the World's navies.

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The two ships of this class, Bismarck and her "sister" Tirpitz, were quite fast, at just over thirty knots maximum speed. Their steam turbine powerplants, producing some 150,000 horsepower, consumed a great deal of fuel oil, limiting their oceanic "reach" to a degree that was especially critical to a nation with Germany's geography. Future German battleship designs, which World War II aborted, featured diesel engines, intended to produce far greater endurance on the high seas.

Name: Bismarck
Ordered: 16 November 1935
Laid down: 1 July 1936
Launched: 14 February 1939
Commissioned: 24 August 1940
Bismarck General characteristics
Displacement: 41,700 T standard
50,900 tonnes full load
Length: 251 metres (823.5 ft) overall
241.5 metres (792.3 ft) waterline
Beam: 36.0 metres (118.1 ft) waterline
Draft: 9.3 metres (30.5 ft) standard
10.2 metres (33.5 ft) full load
Propulsion: 12 Wagner high-pressure;
3 Blohm & Voss geared turbines;
3 three-blade propellers, 4.70 m diameter
150,170 hp (121 MW)
Speed: 30.1  knots during trials (one work claims a speed of 31.1 knots (57.6 km/h).
Range: 8,525  nm at 19 knots (35 km/h)
Complement: 2,092: 103 officers 1,989 men (1941)
Armament:
  • 8 × 380 mm (4×2)
  • 12 × 150 mm/L55 SK-C/28 (6×2)
  • 16 × 105 mm/L65 SK-C/37 / SK-C/33 (8×2)
  • 16 × 37 mm/L83 SK-C/30
  • 12 × 20 mm/L65 MG C/30
  • 8 × 20 mm/L65 MG C/32 (8×4)
Armour: Belt: 145 to 320 mm
Deck: 110 to 120 mm
Bulkheads: 220 mm
Turrets: 130 to 360 mm
Barbettes: 342 mm
Conning tower: 360 mm
Aircraft carried: 4×Arado Ar 196, with 1 double-ended catapult

Battleship Bismarck was very heavily protected against the gunfire of other battleships. With a standard displacement of well over 41,000 tons (about 50,000 tons fully loaded), she was also quite a bit larger than her European and American contemporaries. As shown by the photographs below, originally collected by the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Intelligence, this ship's construction greatly interested foreign navies.

Built at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg, Bismarck's keel was laid at the beginning of July 1936. She was launched with considerable ceremony, including the attendance of Adolf Hitler, on 14 February 1939. Her outfitting, which included the addition of a new "clipper" bow (which the Germans called an "Atlantic" bow), lasted nearly two years. She was commissioned in August 1940, ran trials during the following months, and was not fully ready for service until late in 1940.


Bismarck Battle of the Denmark Strait

At approximately 05:30 on Saturday 24 May, as the German squadron was about to leave the Denmark Strait, Prinz Eugen's hydrophones detected the presence of two additional ships some distance to port. By 05:45 both were in sight, although the German force had not yet identified the enemy force. It turned out to be a British battle-group comprising the new battleship Prince of Wales, and the battlecruiser Hood, under the command of Rear Admiral Lancelot Holland. Prince of Wales had only recently been completed and was still being worked up (indeed, she sailed to meet Bismarck with about 100 civilian workers still onboard completing her fitting-out). Hood had been built as a battlecruiser and modified to give her protection more like a battleship, but still had relatively weak deck armour. The Germans were not surprised that they had been detected by British ships, but that they would turn out to be capital ships was an unexpected development.

At 05:49 Holland ordered fire to be concentrated on the leading German ship, Prinz Eugen, believing it to be battleship Bismarck. Fortunately for the British, the captain of Prince of Wales was soon to realise the error and changed his target. Holland amended his order on the correct ship to be engaged but this did not reach Hood's gunnery control before the first salvo. Hood fired the first shots of the battle at 05:52, in daylight, followed very soon afterwards by Prince of Wales. The range to the German ships was c. 12.5 miles (20.1 km). The first salvo from Hood landed close to Prinz Eugen, causing minor shell splinter damage near the aft turrets.[13]

More than two minutes went by without a reply from the German ships, before Captain Lindemann ordered fire to be returned on the lead British ship. This was Hood, which the Germans had identified only when the British squadron made a turn towards them at 05:55. This manoeuvre was undertaken, it appears, in an attempt to place themselves in the "zone of immunity", an area inside which both plunging fire, in particular, and direct enemy fire is relatively ineffective. Closer in, Hood would be less vulnerable and the advantage of superior German gunnery control would be lessened. The disadvantage was that, during the dash, eight of the eighteen British heavy guns could not be brought to bear.

Both Bismarck and Prinz Eugen opened fire on Hood, at a range of 11 miles (18 km). The early gunfire from the German ships was very accurate and within two minutes Hood had been hit by at least one 8-inch shell from Prinz Eugen. It struck the British ship near the mainmast and caused a large fire which Hood's crew tried to bring under control. Prinz Eugen hit Hood three times during the engagement. However, Bismarck had also been hit by Prince of Wales, causing a fuel leak from the forward tanks; therefore Lütjens ordered his cruiser to switch its guns towards Prince of Wales, which his own secondary guns were now targeting. Bismarck survivor Baron Burkard von Müllenheim-Rechberg initially claimed that the hits on his ship were scored by Hood with her third salvo. However, it is equally likely that these hits were scored by Prince of Wales, as it is clear that Hood was targeting Prinz Eugen for the majority of the battle and that the order to change target to Bismarck saw most of her salvoes fall between the enemy ships, hitting neither.[15] At 05:54 the range was down to 22,000 yards (20 km), at 05:57 it was down to just 19,000 yards (17 km). Bismarck then fired a fourth salvo which was slightly long and astern of Hood. At the same time Holland had ordered "2 Blue", a 20-degree turn to port. Before the ship began a turn to port Hood fired a fifth salvo at 05:59:30.

At 06:00 Hood, which was in the process of turning to port to bring her full weight of armament to bear on Bismarck,[17] was hit amidships by at least one shell from Bismarck's fifth salvo at a distance of under nine miles (16,500 yards). Very shortly afterwards observers on both sides saw a huge jet of flame race skywards, followed by a rumbling explosion that split the huge ship in two. Splinters rained down on Prince of Wales, 400 yards (370 m) away. Hood's stern rose and sank shortly before the bow, all within three minutes. Admiral Holland and 1,415 crewmen went down with the ship. Only three men (Ted Briggs, Bob Tilburn, and Bill Dundas) survived. They were rescued about two and a half hours later by the destroyer Electra. The British Admiralty later concluded that the most likely explanation for the loss of Hood was a penetration of her magazines by a single 15-inch shell from Bismarck, causing the subsequent catastrophic explosion. Recent research by submersible craft suggests that the initial explosion could have been in the aft 4-inch magazine, followed by the aft 15? magazine and that it may also have spread to the forward 15-inch magazines via the starboard side ammunition passage.

Prince of Wales had to turn towards the German fleet to avoid hitting the wreckage left by the flagship and was hit a number of times by gunfire from both German ships. Still, her own gunfire had caused damage to Bismarck. The British battleship turned away, laying smoke, her aft turret firing briefly under local control. She had received seven hits (three of them from Prinz Eugen) and mechanical failures had left her with all but one of her main guns out of action.
The death of HMS Hood; a smoke cloud fills the sky above Hood's position, just after the ship exploded

At 06:03 Prinz Eugen, which at that point had fired 183 20.3 cm shells, reported propeller noises to starboard, bearing 279° and 220°. Bismarck and Prinz Eugen were forced into emergency manoeuvres and sighted a Sunderland flying-boat shortly afterwards.[18] Although Captain Lindemann wanted to chase Prince of Wales and "finish her off", Admiral Lütjens ignored his suggestions since delay risked the possibility of encountering other heavy enemy ships. In a battle lasting less than 20 minutes Bismarck and her consort had seen one enemy capital ship destroyed and another withdraw, an action almost unknown in the Royal Navy.

At 08:01 Bismarck made a transmission to Group North:

Sections XIII-XIV. Electric plant No. 4 broken down. Port No. 2 boiler room is making water but can be held. Maximum speed 28 knots (52 km/h). Denmark Strait 50 nautical miles (93 km) wide. Floating mines. Two enemy radar sets recognised. Intention: to put into Saint-Nazaire.

Faulty intelligence had led the Germans to believe that Prince of Wales was not yet ready for action, therefore reports from Bismarck referred to her as King George V, the first of that class, which had been active for some months.

Despite the jubilation onboard Bismarck, the battleship was not safe. The British knew her position, her forward radar was out of action and she had received three hits, one of which caused water to leak into and contaminate fuel oil in storage. From then on, Bismarck had to reduce speed to a maximum of 20 knots (37 km/h) to conserve fuel. Lütjens eventually decided that he would have to head for the French coast (the dry-dock in Saint-Nazaire) for repairs, while ordering Prinz Eugen to continue commerce raiding alone. The British continued to shadow her, Prince of Wales having rendezvoused with Norfolk and Suffolk. To enable his consort to escape, Lütjens turned on his pursuers and forced them to turn away, thus allowing Prinz Eugen to steam on out of British radar range. The plan was to be executed on the signal "Hood". Lütjens first attempt failed. However at 18:14 a second attempt succeeded, the two German ships parted and Bismarck signalled "Good hunting".

German Battleship Bismarck's Atlantic Sortie, May 1941

In the wake of the successful January-March 1941 cruise of the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau against Allied shipping, and in keeping with Grand Admiral Erich Raeder's strategy of aggressively employing his heavy ships, another German Navy raiding expedition into the Atlantic was undertaken, employing the new battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. After many delays, these ships left the Baltic Sea on 19-20 May. Briefly stopping near Bergen, Norway, on 21 May, they then headed north, planning to enter the shipping zone by way of the Denmark Strait, between Iceland and Greenland.

British planes had photographed the German ships while they were in Norwegian waters, and the Royal Navy sent its own warships to sea in an effort to intercept the enemy and keep him from attacking the vital convoys. British cruisers began to shadow the Germans on 23 May, and Bismarck fired on HMS Norfolk. At about 6AM the next day, in the Battle of the Denmark Strait, the Germans fought and destroyed HMS Hood and drove off HMS Prince of Wales.

Battleship Bismarck was also damaged sufficiently to force her to abort her mission. British aircraft and ships continued to follow the two German vessels, which separated late on 24 May during an exchange of gunfire with their pursuers. Prinz Eugen continued into the Atlantic while Bismarck was to head toward France, where her damage could be repaired. That night, the British hit the German battleship with a carrier plane's torpedo, reducing her speed, but also lost track of her. Contact was regained on the 26th and the Royal Navy vectored its ships to attempt to sink Bismarck before she could reach the protection of Luftwaffe aircraft from France. Late that day, planes from the carrier Ark Royal scored at least two torpedo hits, one of which crippled Bismarck's rudders.

Unable to maintain course toward France, and still out of range of friendly airpower, Bismarck now was at the mercy of her enemies. Torpedo attacks by destroyers on 26-27 May achieved no success, but on the morning of the 27th two Royal Navy battleships, Rodney and King George V, and two heavy cruisers arrived. Firing began before 9AM, with German gunfire accuracy quickly degrading to ineffectiveness. British fourteen and sixteen-inch shells gradually smashed Battleship Bismarck's main guns, superstructure, hull and armor. Prompted by torpedoes and scuttling charges, the German battleship rolled over and sank somewhat after 10:30 AM on 27 May 1941, bringing to an end the most serious challenge that German surface warships would make to British Atlantic Ocean supremacy.

 
According to the prewar German naval program, Plan Z, the Bismarcks were to operate in the Kriegsmarine`s battleline along with six of the H-class battleships and the Scharnhorst class battleships in the event of war. As the planned H-class battleships were nowhere near completion when hostilities commenced, and were eventually broken up, the Bismarcks had to be used in attacking merchant shipping.

Both Bismarck-class ships were lost during the Second World War. Bismarck was scuttled during combat with the Royal Navy in the North Atlantic in 1941 on its first sortie against merchant shipping. The Tirpitz for most of its career acted as a fleet in being in Norway, threatening the Murmansk convoys with its presence and tying down Royal Navy units; after numerous attempts to sink her, she eventually capsized at its anchorage in Norway after being hit with Tallboy bombs from Royal Air Force bombers in late 1944.
 
     
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Battleship Bismarck
German Battleships WW2

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